A GANGSTER who plotted to supply Manchester's underworld with firearms smuggled from eastern Europe has been jailed for 20 years.

Richard Saltmarsh, 27, masterminded the smuggling of a consignment of handguns, silencers and 1,220 rounds of ammunition from Lithuania by having them hidden inside a Volvo car.

He paid ?30,000 for 30 German-made blank-firing pistols which were converted into lethal weapons and then brought into Britain.

The drug dealer from Coventry intended to sell the weapons to gangsters in the Manchester area.

But police trapped Saltmarsh's gang when they raided Trafford Auto Spares, off Edge Lane in Stretford, last August and found the guns being removed from secret compartments in the car.

Saltmarsh was convicted of conspiracy to import the weapons after a three-week trial at Manchester Crown Court. He had denied the charge.

Judge Bernard Lever told him his 20-year sentence was intended to "send the clearest possible signal to gangsters who use guns, and those like you who import on a significant scale their guns and ammunition, whether from eastern Europe or elsewhere, that they do so at their peril."

Weapons

His right-hand man in Coventry, James Parker, 24, the Manchester connection, Dawson Wray, 31, of Tetlow Grove, Eccles, and two Lithuanian gangsters, Marius Renke, 27, and Anton Vaisnoras, 25, had previously pleaded guilty to their part in the conspiracy.

Those four will be sentenced later.

A third Lithuanian, Robertas Bauzys, 43, who had driven the weapons in the Volvo across Europe, was found not guilty after arguing he had no idea what was hidden in the car.

Saltmarsh was in Coventry when police found the guns and claimed he had nothing to do with the smuggling plot but police were able to trace mobile phone calls back to him.

Judge Lever praised the detective work which had established the connection with Saltmarsh and told him: "I am satisfied that these guns had no legitimate or lawful use whatsoever. They were for gangsters and the underworld to use in drug wars, or extortion or illegal enforcement.

"You paid a runner to take ?30,000 in cash for the Lithuanians. You, Parker and Wray would have distributed them in Greater Manchester at a significant profit over that figure, not caring for the mayhem such weapons and 1,220 live rounds could cause in this area.

"Decent people in this country are appalled at the shootings that go on by gangsters in our great cities. They have etched permanently on their minds those two young ladies who were killed in crossfire by gangsters in Birmingham.

"Only the week before this trial started, a 15-year-old was shot in the chest, groin, back buttock and thigh and a 13-year-old in the leg.

"These attacks were nothing to do with you but they illustrate why the courts must appropriately and proportionately punish you."

After the case, Det Chf Insp Paul Savill, who led the investigation, said: "This is an excellent result for Greater Manchester, my team and for GMP. I have no doubt the seizure of these guns has prevented crime, and potentially murder."

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